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Today, instead of working from two to nine-thirty, I got up early and joined the majority of my students on a trip to a water park near Cheonan. I arrived at the meeting point at a nearby bus stop and found no one there. So I waited a bit and some of the kids walked past, so I followed them to the big red coach that was waiting a few metres away.

The bus was far too big for our needs. It could have seated the better part of fifty passengers, but had about two dozen people including the boss, the Korean teacher and me. The drive took less than half an hour.

Once at Tedin Water Park, we lined up for a bit – well, the kids did; I hung about to one side – and a member of staff gave everyone a device that looked like a young girl’s watch. It was the locker ‘key’. Inside, we deposited our footwear in a small locker, then entered the changing rooms. As there was a gaggle of children – not all of them ours, it seemed – in front of my main locker I decided to just sit and wait.

Eventually, I was changed and had covered myself in sunscreen and was ready to go outside. We were all given life jackets; I didn’t put mine on, but eventually relented and wore it. Many of the kids – and visitors – seemed overdressed. Most people seemed to wear at least a T-shirt in addition to their swimming costume – perhaps a lightweight hoodie, too. There were a few young women who walked around in bikinis only, but their dryness and lack of life jackets indicated that they had no interest in going into the water.

Tedin Waterpark

I felt kind of miserable for the first part of the morning. There were too many people and I felt like a fish out of water, not really knowing what to do. I went off by myself for a bit and found a quiet area to look over the park. Then I decided I should get over it and decided to find some of our children.

I was rescued from my funk by some of the elementary school girls, who grabbed me and pulled me to this feature that consisted of a channel that looped around much of the outer part of the facility. There were hundreds of big inflatable rings being used or floating freely. Close to the entrance, there was a section where huge gush of water thundered into the channel and propelled everyone forwards a few metres.

I wasn’t allowed entry at first because I didn’t have a hat, but one of the girls gave me hers and she put up her hood. Like the life jackets, it seemed like a strange, overly protective measure, but the thousands of people who must pass through every day are probably capable of shedding a fair amount of hair.

Tedin Waterpark 2

It turned out to be quite fun. The girls escorted me to a big wave pool, which wasn’t quite as exciting, but at least afforded a tiny bit more space in which to actually swim a few metres. There was a big ride called the Tsunami, but it seemed to have a really long queue, so no one wanted to go on that (the elementary kids were probably too young, anyway). We did go one slide. The chute was covered so you shot down in complete blackness apart from the start and the end. The joins in the chute bumped my shoulder blades in an almost painful way.

Lunch was bizarrely early at about 11:10. We seemed to have an assigned time as well as assigned seating in a cafeteria that was separate from the food court. The food was a bit prison-ish: a white plastic tray with modest amounts of rice, bulgogi, kimchi and (for some reason) corn, plus a bowl of watery but tasty soup with those beige spongy things that I’m not sure I know the name for. It wasn’t exactly filling, but I suppose swimming on a full stomach is not so pleasant.

At lunch, my boss let me know that she wanted me to make a decision about whether I would sign on for another year or leave in November by Monday.

The afternoon progressed much as the morning had – except that there were twice as many people. I retrieved my own hat from my locker (and reapplied sunblock). As the younger kids couldn’t go into the deeper parts of the wave pool, I kept losing them when I came out. If I’d stuck with them, I might have had more fun, or at least kept busy, but whenever I was on my own I was at a loose end.

Eventually, I decided I’d had enough and went and showered and changed. I noticed in the mirror that I was a little pink where my skin had been exposed to the sun. The backs of my feet and hands and arms had a very mild sting of sunburn, but they seem OK now. I came back out into the water park area wearing my jeans, T-shirt and backpack, but barefoot. I was about in time to meet up with everyone as they got ready to leave.

So the day wasn’t terrible – I had some fun and the kids certainly seemed to enjoy themselves (all but one older boy who told me towards the end that he was angry because he’d been given responsibility for looking after the youngsters). I’d never been to one of these places before. It hadn’t really been a priority. I’m not sure that I’d ever want to return to a water park – not unless it was on a weekday outside of holiday season and I was with someone who would encourage my playful side.

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Habiba and I have been back in Korea for a couple of days now. I’ve just finished uploading photographs and videos from the trip, but, while we were away, I had very little time for blogging, so now I want to write about our travels.

As you’ll appreciate, it’s winter here in Korea, so it’s pretty chilly. We planned to head off to the airport immediately after Habiba finished work on Friday the 24th of December, catching an express bus to the airport. I carried both our large backpacks and my small one to the bus stop and bought a couple of tickets. Habiba turned up after six o’clock and we waited. And continued to wait. It was rush hour, so eventually, as Habiba lost the feeling in her extremities, to take a taxi. The ride took a long while, creeping along the expressway while we anxiously eyed the driver’s navigation display and its ETA. The nearly two-hour ride cost about ₩60,000 – about £34.

The nighttime flight out was fine – I read Moby-Dick most of the way. Once at Cebu Airport, arriving in the early hours of the morning, we had nothing to do but wait for morning and for the first ferries to run. There wasn’t even any where to buy water, as far as we could tell.

Our plan was to take a ferry from Cebu to Tabilaran, the capital of Bohol, an island province immediately to the south of Cebu. From there, we intended to take a bus or taxi from the city on the south-west corner of Bohol to the nearby island of Panglao, specifically a beach on the southern side of the smaller island called Alona Beach.

We took a taxi to the ferry terminal – Pier 1, I think – and tried to buy a ticket for the early ferry at six o’clock. The terminal was a pretty run-down, dirty place, populated with various tired Filipinos and foreigners. We asked a man at the terminal fee desk where we could buy a ticket and his response was a vague, Over there. We didn’t really know what to do, but I overheard some other travellers talking about tickets that they’d bought. With their help, I figured out that there was no 6 am ferry, it being Christmas Day, but we could take a 7:30 ferry to a different place and take a bus from there to our destination.

I queued up and bought us a pair of tickets, and some water, and, as I headed back to Habiba, was button-holed by a couple of young women who asked to tag along with us. After more uncertainty over where to go we squeezed through the crowd waiting to board and got on a small orange speed ferry. The trip to Tubigon took an hour or so, during which time I heard the first of three renditions of Bryan May’s ‘Too Much Love Will Kill You’ that day, and also got my first sleep of the day.

Habiba and I and our fellow travellers, Ivy (a Singaporean living in Hong Kong) and Mara (a Romanian also working in Hong Kong) hired a man with a minivan to take us to Alona. However, we needed the bathroom before we went anywhere and Habiba spent a while changing into more summery clothes – which made the guy frantic to get us on board. Once we did and got underway, Ivy realised she’d dropped her wallet somewhere. After heading back to the ferry terminal and looking for it, she concluded it was lost. One of the other people in the van said she worked for a radio station and would put out an announcement about it, although nothing came of that as far as I know.

The drive to Alona was another hour or more. We entered our hotel, the Citadel Alona Inn, a fairly modest but nice place, and left our bags in their small, empty bar. We couldn’t check in for another hour or two, so we had breakfast and walked down to the beach.

Alona Beach was a fairly narrow strip of sand about 500 metres long backed by a dense row of mainly bars and restaurants and a few shops. Our hotel was a five-minute or so walk from there, along a dirty, uneven road that was home to more shops, eateries and hotels. Many of these places were run by ex-pats – the resorts seemed to be especially popular with Germans; there was a Helmut’s Place, for example.

Although our hotel served food, on the evidence of our one and only meal there, it wasn’t terribly good. Apart from that, and the diminutive dimensions of our room and double bed, the Citadel Alona was a good place to stay. It was clean and attractive, and – very importantly – provided free drinking water. There was no hot water in the taps, though – so all showers were cold. That’s not too bad in a tropical climate, but I think showers, like tea and coffee, should be hot.

Just across the road from our hotel was another one called ChARTs, which had a restaurant called the Art Café. This was a very nicely designed place, all artfully moulded stucco walls, and – surprisingly enough – lots of artwork. This place became our favoured location for breakfast and coffee, lunch, too, sometimes.

Another nice thing about the Art Café was that the staff were friendly and attentive – but not too attentive. Many of the other places we ate and drank at were quite relaxed – to the point of being difficult to get served or pay your bill at. Our main hangout at the beach was like that. At Oops Bar, near the left-hand extremity of the beach as you look out to sea, we often ordered smoothies first thing and then didn’t pay for them until hours later when we left – and we had to remind the staff that we’d bought them.

Oops Bar (which I’m guessing is owned by a Brit – I saw him directing the young waiters in moving some huge plant pots) had about five pairs of sunbeds beyond its beach tables and chairs. These are open to anyone who claims them – and with no apparent pressure to buy drinks or food. And claim them we did, on a pretty much daily basis. One night, we also had dinner there – ostrich steak. It was good, but very tough – it was particularly hard to cut. It look and tasted much like beef.

Amongst other culinary delights, we tried a fish grill one one occasion. The restaurant had a table with shallow containers holding ice and a selection of fresh fish, big prawns, squid and so on. We shared a green parrot fish. One of the more interesting drinks we had was a calamansi juice. Calamansi is a green citrus fruit about the size and shape of a large marble; it’s also very sour. It’s used to good effect by squeezing one over a fish or other food. Perhaps our favourite meal was Thai curry, fried rice and spring rolls at a place near our hotel that specialised in hot woks. Although we waited a long time for our meal the one time we were there, when it came it was delicious and huge. Experience had taught us to expect much smaller portions.

There was an ice cream place that took your two scoops of ice cream and put them on a circular plate that seemed alternately heat and chill the ice cream while the woman chopped and kneaded fruit into the ice cream with a pair of spatulas. Finally, the mix would be scraped off into a roll and put in a polystyrene cup with a couple of toppings of your choice. We had that a few times.

Whilst eating, it was very common to be approached by a small group of young boys who would start a half-hearted rendition of a random Christmas song. Whenever this happened to us, we just shook our heads and the kids moved on to the next table.

In terms of activities, we spent lots of time on the beach and in the water. Our friends Ksan and Jun-hong lent us their goggles and snorkels, so we swam out into the warm, shallow waters to gaze down at the hidden world of little fish, sea urchins and starfish. Our first such expedition took us quite a way out among all the boats anchored offshore. Habiba and decided to head back – she suggested we swim fast. However, I’m not such good swimmer, so I quickly got tired – and then got seawater in my snorkel, which doesn’t have a valve on the top. Scared of drowning I had to stop and try and stand on the sea bed, hoping I wouldn’t stand on a sea urchin. After a rest, I was able to swim back to shore, which, while it wasn’t far away, seemed to take about ten minutes. That aside, the snorkelling was lots of fun. Maybe in twelve months’ time, I can get some more swimming practice in.

I think Alona Beach compares favourably with Ko Phi Phi in Thailand (where we went last year). It’s a little less touristy, less intense. Although the quid pro quo is that there’s less choice – less in the way of eating, drinking and shopping. On Ko Phi Phi, there were lots of diving shops and travel agents lining the narrow avenues leading to the beach and the hotels. While such places were present here, lots of business seemed to be conducted by guys who would stand around by the entrance to the beach and ask passersby by if they wanted to go on this or that trip. We did both this trip and that trip, but that’ll be the subject of another post.

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